Songs of Black Lives Matter: Tracy Chapman, "Talkin' Bout a Revolution"

American singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman, 1988.
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Dave Hogan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In the wake of nationwide heartache following the news of George Floyd's death, there is a growing urgency to support the Black Lives Matter cause. Generations of soul artists have contributed to the movement through anthemic songs of protest and statement albums that have begun and furthered the conversations addressing racism, violence and disillusionment.

In this ongoing series, we highlight the songs of the Black Lives Matter movement that launched and empowered people's pleas for a brighter future. Check back in weekly to listen and learn about the songs that have unified people throughout history to stand up for racial equality.

Tracy Chapman, "Talkin' About a Revolution"

Tracy Chapman took center-stage in the soundscape of global pop in the late 80's when she unveiled her eponymous debut album, a multimillion-selling sensation, that faced issues of racism and violence against women head-on. The 24-year-old, a student at Tufts University at the time, would shoot to fame amongst the likes of global icons Bruce Springsteen and Peter Gabriel, as she questioned the failings of American with power and authority in her first record.

“As a child,” Chapman noted to Rolling Stone, “I always had a sense of social conditions and political situations. I think it had to do with the fact that my mother was always discussing things with my sister and me — also because I read a lot. A lot of people in similar situations just have a sense that they’re poor or disenfranchised, but they don’t really think about what’s created the situation or what factors don’t allow them to control their lives.”

When she channeled her political awareness to release unwavering social justice anthem "Talkin' About A Revolution," as the second single from 1988's Tracy Chapman, Chapman would quickly become a hit at the "coffeehouse on campus" at her prep school, Wooster, in Danbury, Connecticut. 

Chapman would go on to accept admission at Tufts University, while continuing her public music performances, through on-campus events, including political rallies. She would catch the attention of Bob Krasnow of Elektra Records, would would work with her to create the eleven songs in Tracy Chapman. 

In the final stages of the album, Krasnow would mail a test pressing to Elliot Roberts, who recalled, “It was exactly the same feeling when I first heard Joni Mitchell. Every song was moving, every song meant something — it was all driven by passion…It was totally not what’s happening, but when you hear it, you go, ‘That’s it. That must be the new thing.'”

ON THE SONG'S INSPIRATION: 

“I wrote the song ‘Talkin’ About A Revolution’ when I was sixteen, I guess I was in my second or my first year of boarding school," she shared in a 1986 interview with TV show Dear Air Live. "I grew up in Cleveland and went to public school there. I received the scolarship to go to boarding school. It was a really difficult transition for me, being in Danbury, Connecticut. I found that people at the school didn’t really have that much interest."

She continued, "I was really angry about that, and that’s where the song ‘Talkin’Bout a Revolution’ came from. Meaning that a lot of them thought that… they didn’t think that people’s lives who…, people who didn’t have money or who were working class, their lives weren’t very significant and they also somehow couldn’t make a change. But I feel that’s where change comes from, that’s where people are in most need."

KEY LYRIC: "Poor people gonna rise up/ And get their share/ Poor people gonna rise up/ And take what’s theirs"

There are many ways people can support the movement against police violence and provide relief to the communities who have been impacted by police racism. Help the family of George Floyd HERE. Fight for Breonna Taylor HERE. Help the family of Ahmaud Arbery HERE.

Want to help protesters? Donate to one or more community bail funds HERE. Visit Movement For Black Lives for additional ways you can help the cause. Want to connect with leaders building grass roots campaigns? Click HERE. Are you an ally and want to learn more? Here are some anti-racism resources.

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